Brazil Mensalao trial: ex-Lula aide Dirceu sentenced

Lula (left) and Jose Dirceu, archive photo Jose Dirceu (right) was one of President Lula's closest advisers

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The Supreme Court in Brazil has sentenced a former top aide of ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to 10 years and 10 months in jail.

Jose Dirceu, 66, was found guilty of setting up an illegal scheme that used public funds to pay coalition parties for political support.

Dirceu had acted as Lula's chief of staff from 2003 to 2005.

The former president is not implicated in the scandal, which became known as "Mensalao", or Big Monthly Allowance.

The Supreme Court also ordered Dirceu to pay a fine of 676,000 reais ($330,000; £210,000).

The former aide maintained that the scheme never existed, and accused Brazil's conservative media of bias against the left-wing government.

In a statement posted on his blog, Dirceu said he did not accept the Supreme Court's "unfair sentence".

He made reference to his days as a left-wing rebel in the 1960s and 70s and vowed to fight the conviction.

"During the military dictatorship I put my life on the line, I was arrested and jailed. I was banned from the country, but did not give up and came back to fight for democracy in Brazil."

'Criminal enterprise'
Supreme court judge Joaquim Barbosa Judge Barbosa, who oversaw the trial, said Dirceu had "dishonoured his position"

The presiding judge, Justice Joaquim Barbosa, ruled that Dirceu had played a crucial role in the corruption scheme.

"He held one of the highest posts in the Brazilian government. He dishonoured his position and made key decisions for the success of this criminal enterprise," he said.

Correspondents say the lengthy sentence handed down by the court means that Mr Dirceu may have to spend some years in prison, rather than serving his sentence under house arrest.

Dirceu was among several senior members of the governing Workers Party convicted last month of involvement in the scheme.

Workers Party president Jose Genoino was sentenced to six years and 11 months imprisonment for the same crimes and will also to pay a heavy fine.

The high-profile convictions have been seen by many in Brazil as evidence that politics is no longer immune from punishment.

Twenty-five of the 37 people charged were found guilty by the court.

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